Published (edited) in The Suns 29 November 2016.  This is the unedited text.


Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s announcement that four year old Australian students will be introduced to a foreign language program deserves careful consideration. At Australian, State and Territory level, the study of languages other than English (LOTE) has had its moments. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the NT Department of Education actively supported a Languages Other Than English (LOTE) initiative.

Schools teaching a LOTE program were supported by additional staffing resources. Language teachers were appointed. Over time and because of budget shrinkage, LOTE programs came to be staffed from ‘within existing resources’. Loss of staff entitlement meant a change to school priorities. In some cases, language programs were put on hold because schools had other needs. A program that had enjoyed system support lost significance.

The present situation

Language study in many schools has become piecemeal. The language taught may have changed, for instance from Indonesian to Chinese. School finances often don’t stretch to accomodate language as a peripheral subject. In some schools, the language other than English was the second language of a particular staff member. In some instances, the language was taught by a community member or volunteer who was paid from the part time instructors budget.

Right now the NT Education’s Language Learning Centre in Ludmilla, offers some support on a ‘user pays’ basis to parents. Various ethnic groups teach language and culture at weekends or out of school hours. But there has been no uniform or workable systemic policy put in place.

The emergence of Australian Curriculum and national educational priorities is leading to a rebirth of the LOTE emphasis. It seems that the desirable outcome will be an infusion of second language learning opportunities across the board for all Australian schools, preschool, primary and secondary. However, the on cost issues (material and staffing resources) will continue to fall on the shoulders of individual schools.

The issue of LOTE for preschool and transition students is about ‘too much too soon’. Australian children need to become confident and competent in the understanding and use of English. Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that students are challenged by English grammar and language usage. Speech, speaking, listening and comprehension skills are often underdeveloped. These shortfalls have a flow on effect, with oral and written communication not reaching acceptable levels.

Emphasising English from the outset and getting things right in relation to our major language of use has to be educationally front and centre. English rather than second language studies needs to be the focus.

YEAR 12 ENDS (Vale Secondary Years)

Note:  My (unedited) column in the “NT Sun” for 22.11.16, is Northern Territory specific.  However, Year 12 students around Australia are being thought about as their secondary schooling years come to an end.


Tomorrow, Wednesday November 22, will be the last day of examinations for Year 12 students completing their Northern Territory Certificate of Education for 2016. Over the past three weeks some 1300 students have been sitting for examinations in the publicly assessed subject areas. While some have completed school assessed programs, the majority have been examined on more academic studies.

There is always a lot of hype around examinations and the end of secondary school. Students feel varying levels of stress in preparing for and undertaking exams. Beyond tomorrow comes waiting and the anticipation of results. This ‘wait’ is shared by parents, siblings and teachers who are keen that students have succeeded. Departmentally, there is also interest in whether students in public or private schools will enjoy the greater percentage of success.

Schoolies Week

While the wait is on, many students will head to Bali or elsewhere for ‘schoolies week’. It’s to be hoped they relax responsibly, avoiding accident, injury or even worse. Managing these adventures in a responsible way is part of growing up. It also returns the dividend of pride for parents who trust their children sufficiently to let them join schoolies week activities.

Right now

Students are waiting, firstly for NTCET results and then to see if they have earned the scores necessary to enter into university study at their chosen tertiary institutions. At least in these modern times the wait for results is not long. They should be with students in the week before Christmas. In past times it was well into January before students got their results.

Earlier results offer students the chance to take up placements immediately or to opt for a gap year. Many students take this option. It gives some a chance to travel while others go to work, earning money to help offset HECS fees.

While most Year 12’s will be successful, some will be disappointed. They will need to reflect upon their efforts and carefully consider the future. To this end support and advices from parents, teachers and student counsellors should come into consideration.

Successful students are those who have made the most of schooling opportunities. They have developed the skills and attitudes they need for success. This has lead to Year 12 as a culmination year and one of celebration. Congratulations to our graduates. All the best for the future.

Some Educational Priorities Should Be FOREVER


News on the Australian Curriculum front confirms  the following: Personal, social, ethical and intercultural understandings are being reinstated!

Interestingly, in one context or another, these skills, attributes characteristics, traits and qualities have been or HAD BEEN part of Education going back in time. Attitudes were once an integral paert of assessment, particularly at Primary School level. However, they also drew primary comment at secondary level.

We used to talk and appreciate the attributes of holistic education, that went to the social, wwmotional and moral/spiritual aspects of life. And their ‘distancing’ was not undertaken so long ago, when one considers these attributes as key ambitions expressed as part of the Melbourne Declaration on Education in 2007.

A great deal of narrowed focus, for mine, came from the Howard then Rudd Goverenments’ focus on NAPLAN as being the ‘end all and ‘b’ all’ of education. The resultant magnified focus on narrow academic competencies meant that the rest was deemed as being somewhat inconsequential.

Guess what? Now all of a sudden the wider frame of awareness about student development is being revisited. It should never have been abandoned or allowed to suffer diminution.

While education is ‘good’, its undermining by foolish thinking and practice is not wise.

COMMUNICATION Prime Relationships Key between Home and School

This is the unedited version of my column published in the Suns on November 15 2016.


Communication between school and home is important in keeping parents and teachers in touch with each other on their children’s progress. Without communication misunderstandings can develop.

An important and often overlooked aspect of these conversations is timing. For teachers, the time of preoccupation and total focus on the school day begins prior to children answering the first bell each morning. This continues until the last child has left or been collected at the end of the school day. Teacher focus continues during both lesson and break times. During recess and at lunch time many extra duties are asked of staff. These include tasks ranging from professional meetings to yard duty.

Meetings between parents and teachers, by phone, skype, or face-to-face, are best organised by appointment. Parents contacting school offices can organise these conversations at a time convenient to both. Wanting to hold discussions with teachers during times when they are otherwise engaged, can lead to frustration and ill-feeling.

Parent – teacher interviews are offered by many schools at least twice each year. Schools are frequently concerned that parents do not take advantage of the chance for a ten or fifteen minute discussion that touches on both student strengths and challenges. Most schools make every effort to accomodate parents by offering alternative afternoon and evening appointments. Notwithstanding their efforts to contact parents and set up appointments, many are disappointed with the response.

An innovation introduced by some schools is to have students lead the reporting process. With parents and teacher engaged, the student leads and contributes to the conversation that is highlighting successes and challenges. This is a unique way of developing communication partnerships, but at times in depth conversations need to take place between parent and teacher.

One of the confusions for parents can be the challenge to understanding created by jargon and terminology specific to education. With constant changes on the educational front, ‘keeping up’ with new methodology terminology becomes a challenge for teachers, let alone parents. A great deal of focus becomes lost in constantly changing words and acronyms describing education. Parents and caregivers can be left stranded in a maze that seems to hide real educational meaning and need.

Communication is the more meaningful if conversation is understandable and focuses on key issues. Quality exchange between parents and teachers builds an understanding of educational matters faced by students and that helps build positive relations between home and school.


Teachers and school leaders can sometimes wear abuse from parents and caregivers when it comes to students and things not going well. The reaction of venting when it comes to unhappiness is a not on response that is acceptable.

The unleashing of verbal or physical abuse against principals and teachers cannot be accepted or tolerated.

The issue of violent threats in their various forms is one I believe needing careful address. It’s the matter of “issue” rather than “individual incident” that needs careful consideration. The matter is not new – but rather has been ongoing over time.

From time to time systems and various support professional organisations look at the matter and consider process that might be taken into account when reacting to matters of threat. That to me is part of the problem; our systems are reactive” rather than taking a proactive role in engaging the matter.

Threat in its various forms is not new. However, responding to the matter seems to be one that causes embarrassment. Often Principals and staff members feel that to air issues occurring within the school organisations is tantamount to a profession of weakness. There seems to be a preference to manage within, making sure that word about problems does not get out. Over time there have been assaults levied against Principals and staff members where it seems that departmental management is to mute the issue almost in some sort of “we are guilty because it happened” fashion.

I think that issues of this nature have to be put right out into the public domain and addressed with responsible but justified professional aggression. “How dare they” ought to apply. The response being developed needs to have full system support and it ought not to be that recommendations on process point and direct the whole matter back to schools at the individual level to manage.


It seems that education as an institution and educators within are far too keen to say ” yes, yes, give us more, we will do it”, when it comes to responsibility for the development of our children and students. There’s was a rime when the rudiments of bringing up children in terms of manners, deportment and self management considerations, were responsibilities vested in parents. Not any more it seems, and especially with the system (in Australia at least) clamouring for preschool (kindergarten) to be available and compulsory for all three year old children.

The focus of this early intervention is often on pre-reading, pre-maths and other academic priorities. At the same time, whether they realise it or not, teachers and support staff are teaching children how to dress, wash their hands, look after their things, put clothes on, shoe management, and even toilet training. Frequently, the first aquaintence of children with basic manners, eating and drinking habits, looking after food spillage, putting scraps and rubbish in bins and so on.

Teachers are parents for and to their own children. More and more, in lower but also older grades, they are almost the ‘parents’ of children parents send to school.

Personally, that to me is a real worry. What do others think?



This is what it has become.

Fast forward to 2016 and the age of the iPad and computer. With the ascension of this technology the more traditional forms of written communication have largely taken a back seat. Pencil and pen have given way to keyboards and handwriting has become de-emphasised.

In many schools in many systems, handwriting lessons are no longer taught. Correct letter formation, word, phrases and sentence construction are not part of the curriculum. Rather children from very young ages use keyboards for test construction.

Part of the technology may be the embedding of spellchecks and grammatical fixers. This means that the text presented is correct in every detail, but without the creator having any idea or appreciation about the mistakes made during the word processing exercise. I believe that if word processing is being used, these corrective devices need to be turned off, so that errors in printed text are highlighted and have to be thought about for correction.

While supporting the notion of communication being enhanced by technology, I rue the fact that handwriting – pen, pencil, posture and paper – has been and continues to be relegated.


Published in ‘Gray Matters’ column in Suns in November 2016.


Communication can help or hinder organisations, including schools. Education plays a vital role in developing our next generation and the partnership between parents, teachers and students is of critical importance. This link can be sullied by poor communication.

Parents and teachers do not always see eye to eye on issues of child development. There may be disagreement on classroom priorities and teaching methods. There may be issues of parents believing that their children are being treated unfairly or bullied. The matter might be one of understanding a child’s personality. Teachers may also be keen to discuss matters with parents but are unable to reach them.

Without clear communication channels, things can be misunderstood and become distorted. It is at these times ‘whispers’ about teachers, classes and schools can start. Matters that should be discussed in a frank and free manner are allowed to fester and build. Molehills can become mountains of misunderstanding.

One of the difficulties in establishing clear lines of communication comes with the nature of the Territory. Many people know each other personally, meaning that complaints and concerns can be raised at an inappropriate level. Rather than parents going to teachers with concerns, they are more likely to contact the Education Department or email the Minister. In that context, the minister or the department should put it on the complainant to contact the school. Instead, a ‘ministerial’ file is created and a ‘please explain’ is served on the school principal.

The arrival of a ministerial means the school has to drop tools and respond. Resources have to be marshalled and priorities disrupted when a ministerial lands on the principal’s desk. Many matters could be managed with much less disruption if parents followed a procedure of going first to the teacher and then to the principal. Answers to queries would be offered more quickly because ministerial processes are long winded.

Ministerials can also impact on school principals because the first they know of issues might be in the form of a ministerial. The better situation for everyone, is for a parent with concerns to discuss these with the child’s teacher and then with the principal if the matter remains unresolved.

Quality communications build relations between the school and community. It is for the school and its council to convince parents that matters will be handled fairly if teachers and principals are the first port of call. It is for parents to follow this line of action rather than by-passing schools and going to the Education Minister.



Modern teaching technologies have refocussed students away from exercise books, writing pads, pens, pencils and rulers for straight lines. There were ‘3P’s’ to be considered by children who were producing written text.

* Pencil or pen hold.
* Paper position or angle – for the sake of writing slope.
* Posture – sitting up straight and keeping eyes a reasonable distance from work.

Formal handwriting lessons to reinforce these skills and to develop an understanding of upper and lower case, together with printing to cursive writing development was the order of the day. Most classes, especially in the lower and middle primary years, had handwriting lessons. In many cases, these lessons were offered on a daily basis.
The start and finish of letters, together with linking to form words, phrases and sentences were emphasised. This was in the interest of promoting fluency. Speed of writing, together with legibility came into the assessment frame.

Students took pride in the quality of their writing and presentation of written work. This included paragraphing, spacing, neatly ruled top lines and margins, dating of work and so on. Assessment of written work often included comment by the teacher on legibility. Incorrectly spelled words were pointed out and corrected.

That is how it was.


When one begins teaching it’s hard to predict how long a career will be and where it might lead you.

In formal, full time teaching terms my career spanned just on 43 years (beyond graduation).

Without doubt the greatest joy for me is catching up with past students and having conversations with them about the milestones they have reached in life. It is this catching up that makes life as an educator, one of quite regular rejoicement.

Sadly, there have been among those i have taught, a few who have gone off the rails. Thieves, perpetrators of assault, rapists and murderers have been past members of schools with which I have associated. But for every one person who has slipped, there are a thousand who have done well and who are making a quality contribution to life.

I mourn the few who have failed and wish them repentance and recovery. And I rejoice in the many who have brought blessing and joy to others,m to the world, and into their own fulfilled lives.